Every country has an iconic local delicacy that is recognizable around the world. In China, nothing is more distinguishable than a local dumpling, which comes in varying shapes and flavors, even in its national home.
Dump your tourist’s notions about dumplings because here we give you the list of China’s most popular dumpling variations.
When you order a serving of dim sum, don’t forget the har gow. These are small, plump, translucent dumpling with a shrimp inside as filling.
There is also a novelty in preparing the har gow wrap. Chinese restaurants pride themselves in being able to prepare the perfect har gow wrap—just thick enough to retain breakage when wedge in between chop sticks. More importantly, the har gow wrap should not be too sticky or too chewy when eaten.
Guangdong Province is the birth place of the har gow. Head to Luk Yu Teahouse in Central Hong Kong for the best har gow.
Tang tuan or yuan xiao
Those perfectly round, soft balls that float on your soup at a Chinese restaurant are call tang tuan or yuan xiao. These are your traditional round dumplings that bear no distinct overlapping pleats.
They are gooey and sticky because they are made from glutinous rice flour shaped into a ball, filled with something sweet or savory, and then boiled.
For the sweet kind, you can choose from a variety of fillings like powdered peanuts and sugar, and even sesame paste. Savory tang tuan are filled with seasoned minced pork with a sprinkling of green onions.
Traditionally, tang tuan dumpling are served during the celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Why are they round-shaped? It’s because they symbolize a united Chinese family.
This is one dumpling you can take to the streets for your early morning breakfast in China. Sheng jian dumplings are steamed dumplings with fried, crispy bottoms. Traditionally eaten with vinegar, the dumplings are often seen on the streets resting beautifully in a large iron skillet, sprinkled with green onions and sesame seeds on top. For the best sheng jian in Shanghai, buy them at Xiao Yang.
These are flavorful dumplings filled with minced meat—pork or beef—and vegetables. The dumplings are carefully hand-pleated, some are shaped like tiny mice, and then steamed to the desired doneness. The famous har gow is one of the most popular variations of the traditional zheng jiao that are served in most restaurants in China, like the Shaxian Xiao Chi.
Similar to the Japanese gyoza, guo tie (more commonly known as pot stickers) are two-fold dumplings that are steamed on top and fried at the bottom.
Like most dumplings, guo tie are filled with seasoned pork fillings with leeks, bokchoy, or cabbage, and then shaped like ingots.
In Shanghai, two restaurants stand out for their guo tie: Overseas Dragon and Xiao Nan Guo.
Perhaps one of the most popular dumplings—not just in China but around the world—is the famed xiaolongbao. It is said to be so famous that many Chinese restaurants fake them to entice tourists and locals alike.
What makes xiaolongbao so unique is the combination of meat filling and aspic, a flavorful broth that is gelatinized, inside a beautifully hand-pleated dumpling.
When you bite into a xiaolongbao, the aspic oozes out along with the meat, it’s sort of a soup serving inside a dumpling pocket.
The origin of the xialongbao can be traced to Nanxiang, Shanghai.
For a meatier dumpling, look for momo dumplings. Crescent-shaped and filled with other than minced pork, momo dumplings are hearty and can be served steamed or fried depending on one’s liking. When visiting Lhasa, look for the Snow Deity Place Tibetan Restaurant and order a hearty serving of momo dumplings with chili sauce.
In northern China, shui jiao (boiled dumpling) earned its title as a family staple through the years.
In celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year, many families in Northern China prepare this traditional dumpling as a family: the grandmother is in charge of making the dumpling wrapper. The mother is the one who usually prepares the filling—minced pork and a variety of vegetable, while everyone in the family involves themselves in preparing the individual dumplings.
Some Chinese chefs in northern China insert a lucky coin in a dumpling, a sort of “lucky” treat for a fortunate eater—a literal take on what can be called a “fortune dumpling”.
Laobian Jiaozi Guan is a local Chinese restaurant that is located across the Rose Hotel in Shenyang. They are known for making the local delicacy for over 150 years.
With its origin tracing back to Inner Mongolia, the shao mai is one of the most recognizable dumplings in South East Asia, particularly in the Philippines. The shape of the shao mai depicts a money bag with rich filling enclosed. There’s a variation of the shao mai called the fei cui shao mai whose wrapper is deep green at the bottom and clear on top. It is said that the fei cui shao mai resembles a jade.
In Beijing, the best shao mai can be eated at the Duyichu Shaomai, the restaurant where the Emporer Qianlong often visited back in the 1750s.
Sadly, the manti dumpling is the least popular and least appreciated dumpling in China. However, this doesn’t mean it is less flavorful. Hearty and often reminds one of home, the best ones are served by road side vendors in Xinjiang.
One of the most common dumpling is the hun tun or wanton. Often served in soups, hun tun or wanton dumplings are filled with minced pork and savory greens like cilantro and wild watercress.
They are often eaten with egg noodles while floating on top of rich broth. The best wantons in China can be found in a restaurant in Chengdu, the Chen Ma Po Sichuan Restaurant.
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